Hoeven, Stabenow Introduce Voluntary COOL Legislation

Measure Addresses Sanctions on U.S. Meat, Enables Voluntary Country of Origin Labeling

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today introduced the Voluntary Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and Trade Enhancement Act of 2015. The measure is designed to prevent retaliatory trade sanctions by Canada and Mexico, yet still allow voluntary labeling of beef, pork and chicken that is produced in the United States.

The Hoeven-Stabenow measure positions the U.S. to avoid retaliatory tariffs by repealing the mandatory COOL law and replacing it with a voluntary program that will enable processors to voluntarily label meat products. The bill maintains the integrity of the label, ensuring that the product is actually “born, raised and slaughtered in the United States,” rather than just processed in the U.S.

“Retaliatory tariffs won’t just impact meat producers and processors, but will also affect consumers, businesses and jobs, so Senator Stabenow and I have developed a solution that should work for all of them,” Hoeven said. “We cannot put ourselves in a position where Canada and Mexico can retaliate against us for mandatory country of origin labeling, but we can have a voluntary labeling program and still meet WTO requirements.”

“I am very pleased to be partnering with Senator Hoeven and my other colleagues to address the results of the WTO decision regarding COOL," Ranking Member Stabenow said. “This bipartisan, WTO-consistent legislation, will avoid retaliation while supporting our farmers, ranchers and consumers.   If consumers in Canada have the right to know where their food comes from through a voluntary labeling process, then American consumers should have the same. This bill also ensures that any American label is consistent and recognizes the hard work of America’s family farmers and ranchers who proudly raise the world’s safest, most abundant, most affordable food.”

“For millions of Americans, a U.S. label is an important consideration when purchasing meat and other food products,” said Thune. “This bill protects the integrity of a voluntary label bearing ‘Product of the U.S.’ to literally mean just that.”

“By introducing a voluntary country-of-origin labeling system, we’re demonstrating a continued commitment to ensuring consumers have the chance to know where their food comes from,” said Klobuchar. “With more than $75 billion in economic activity generated by Minnesota’s agriculture industry, this legislation is also sending a critical message that we value our relationships with our export partners.”

“A voluntary labeling program is a simple solution that will allow the United States to abide by its WTO obligations while giving producers the option to label their products,” said Grassley. “It’s an approach that Canada has also taken. In the end, Americans should be able to know where their meat comes from, with a label that has integrity based on a single definition of U.S. pork and beef, just like they know where their t-shirts come from.”

“Families in North Dakota and across the country want to know where the meat they buy and serve comes from,” said Heitkamp. “And making sure American consumers can depend on the Country of Origin Label they know and recognize in stores is living up to the highest standard it advertises – born, raised, and processed within the United States – is critical. Our bipartisan bill will safeguard the integrity of our ‘A’ label and support our ranchers, who take great pride in raising the best products in the world. Since the World Trade Organization’s ruling threatened COOL’s standards and dependability, I’ve been working to find a realistic, bipartisan compromise that still protect families, farmers, and ranchers – and that’s what this bill does.”

“Americans deserve to make informed decisions when it comes to food they put on the table,” said Brown. “While I prefer mandatory country of origin labeling and disagree with the World Trade Organization’s ruling, we need to take action to keep consumers safe while avoiding retaliatory trade sanctions from Canada and Mexico. Voluntary country of origin labeling standards will ensure that consumers know where their meat is raised and processed. A voluntary country of origin labeling program would benefit both producers and consumers, while ensuring the U.S. meat industry stays in compliance with the World Trade Organization.”

In May 2015, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled for the fourth time that the United States’ mandatory COOL law violates international trade agreements. The WTO is undergoing an arbitration process to determine the level of retaliation that Canada and Mexico will be authorized to implement. Both countries say they intend to implement retaliatory tariffs should the U.S. fail to address the current COOL law. Canada has said it will seek more than $3 billion and Mexico will seek $650 million in countervailing duties.

In summary, the Hoeven-Stabenow Voluntary COOL bill:

  • Addresses the WTO case by removing beef, pork, chicken, and ground product from mandatory labeling requirements under COOL
  • Establishes a purely voluntary label for U.S. origin beef, pork, chicken, and ground product
  • Protects consumers by maintaining the integrity and usability of “Product of U.S.” labels

Cosponsoring the bill are Senators cosponsors John Thune (R-S.D.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).